Another perfect storm? Key predictors of rapid change in North Korea
Habib, Benjamin Luke
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Previous predictions of regime collapse in North Korea proved wrong because they overemphasised economic weakness without considering the strength of other dimensions of the state. Rapid internal change is more likely to be detected by monitoring key leverage points in the North’s political economy. This paper identifies four leverage points that merit close observation: (1) an increase in the annual food shortage may lead to similar institutional failures as those experienced during the famine period. This may be caused by another series of natural disasters, or, less, likely, by a withdrawal of international aid. (2) A relaxation of informational controls would give the population a basis to compare their political system with those of other countries, which could lead to the wholesale rejection of the ruling ideology and the growth of alternative leadership options. (3) Endemic corruption may lead to the erosion of social control mechanisms if citizens are able to circumvent restrictions or get out of trouble by buying off officials. (4) The next leadership transition may see a power struggle develop if the designated successor has not built a patronage network and power base that is powerful enough to enable him to decisively grasp the reins of power. Kim Jong-Il maintains power in spite of these problems by coopting regime elites and by employing the threat or use of force to preserve control. Change at any one of the key leverage points could compromise the coercive apparatus and elite patronage networks, sparking wider systemic change.